Issue #93
October 17, 2008
Sink or Swim
Front Page

Oliver may be gone, but the Currents Column lives on. My name is Emanuel, and I am a recent hire at RPGamer. The joy, or should I say the burden, of writing this column has fallen upon my shoulders. My sense of humor and style of writing may be a bit different from my predecessors, but I know that I am up to the task of bringing you the latest news in the business, the politics, and the just plain interesting of the gaming world. I think that's enough of an introduction for myself. I have about a month's worth of news to catch you up all on, so let's get down to business.

The Third Iteration of the DS line
and to think, I just bought a DS Lite..

Even though the DSi might be slightly old news, having been announced two weeks ago on October 2nd, the last two weeks have been filled with various reactions, updates, clarifications, and a lot of speculation on the implications of the new hardware. But for those of you who might not know exactly what the DSi is or what makes it so special, I decided to lay out the basics of this upgrade to the DS line.

What's new about the DSi?
What makes this DS so special are the inclusions of: two cameras, one on the outside and one in the inside hinge, larger screens increased from 3.00 inches to 3.25 inches, a 12% slimmer body, music playback functionality, an SD card slot, internal flash memory, and most importantly, the DSWare online store. The DSWare online store, similar to Apple's app store, will allow you to download games and apps directly to the DSi. This addition opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the DS software. With built in internal memory and SD card support, the DSi will play host to a wide range of downloadable software, including everything from small WiiWare type puzzle games to small productivity applications like memo notepads and calendars. You could potentially carry around a small library of games with you inside your DSi and its SD card. The Japanese market will be the first to get this enhanced DS on November 1st, with a worldwide release to follow in 2009.

Is there anything bad about the DSi?
Of course, the DSi isn't all good news. As mentioned above, the DSi is 12% thinner, but in order to achieve its new size, Nintendo decided to remove the GBA slot. This, in effect, destroys backwards compatibility with the Gameboy Advance library and renders peripherals dependent on the slot, like Guitar Hero: On Tour, useless. The battery life has also taken a hit, decreasing an estimated 1 to 6 hours in life. Even if those cons are not enough to put you off, and you feel the need to import the DSi from Japan, don't bother. All DSi software, both downloaded and retail, will be region locked, so you are probably better off waiting for it to come to your own region. Unfortunately, it's going to be a long wait for the rest of the world. Europe will not be seeing a release until sometime in Spring 2009. North America can expect to see a release sometime after April, but when after April is still completely up in the air. One of the key reasons why both regions will be getting the system half a year later or more is simply because both regions don't need a hardware refresh. The DS Lite is expected to sell a few million units this holiday season in both Europe and North America. With that kind of money still rolling in, they are hardly in a rush to try anything new. So I guess that means we all have to sit tight.

What might the future bring?
The DSi is less than a month away from its Japanese launch. Only time will tell if it will help revitalize DS sales the way Nintendo hopes it will, especially after how dominant the PSP's popularity has been thanks to the Monster Hunter titles. While a low resolution camera might not sound too appealing to many, you have to keep in mind that Nintendo would not release a feature like that without having some very specific gaming applications in mind. Of course the big feature to keep an eye on is DSWare. Many in the industry have speculated that although the DS lost its GBA slot to accommodate its smaller profile, it is likely that the original Gameboy games and the GBA games could become available to download via the DSWare shop in the future. I know that many gamers, myself included, would pay to have a few classic Gameboy games in my DSi's memory at all times. A portable version of the Wii's Virtual Console along with brand new downloadable software would be a definite boon to Nintendo and other game companies. With direct download stores being integrated into all high profile handheld devices, there is a lot of room for profit when companies don't have large development costs, don't have to deal with packaged products and retail, or are simply rehashing their old portable games. Even if the DSi never manages to reach the level of its predecessor, the lessons Nintendo will learn from this interesting experiment will surely shape what will be the next generation DS. If anything, think of the DSi as a prototype for the future of Nintendo's handheld gaming ambitions. It is a taste of things to come.

I think they convinced me
The DSi is an interesting device in many ways. The few upgrades that it does have over its predecessor may not be significant or particularly impressive now, but its future potential and implications are. It is nice to see that Nintendo, and its relatively underpowered DS line, are embracing the future. So even if you don't want to upgrade to the DSi, just sit tight. You'll still get a chance to play with DSWare and the new cameras sometime in the future. As for me, I'm buying it on day one.

Sources: 1UP | Kotaku
Free Avatars and Memory units
Now everyone can have a Mii

Another console getting a big update is the Xbox 360. The New Xbox Experience is in many ways more of a console relaunch than a simple update. During the Tokyo Game Show last week, Microsoft announced that on November 19th, 360 owners will finally be able to experience a whole new interface, custom avatars, group chat, integration with Netflix, and an option to install games directly to the hard drive in order to improve performance.

Of course all of these new features come at a price: storage space. The NXE will require at least 128MB of storage space. While this could have been a problem for 360 owners without a hard drive, Microsoft wisely came up with a program to remedy the situation. They are offering either a free 512MB memory unit or a 20GB hard drive for $20 to qualifying 360 owners. This is certainly a fantastic deal for those who bought the Arcade unit. So, if you need a cheap hard drive or free memory card, check the official Xbox site soon so you will be able to download NXE on day one.

Sources: 1UP | GamesIndustry
The Store is Finally Here!
It's about time...

Just this week, Sony announced that firmware version 5.00 will be coming to the PSP. This update brings with it the long-promised and very much-anticipated PSN store directly to the PSP. Prior to this, if you wanted to download a game or a demo, you would have had to take a roundabout route and download the game from either a PS3 or a PC. Well, this is great news for those without a PS3 or those who use a Mac. Just like the iPhone/iPod Touch and the DSi, you can access the store directly from your very own PSP and purchase your games from anywhere around the world with a Wi-Fi connection. Japan has been confirmed to receive the hardware update on October 15, and North America will be receiving the update sometime very soon according to the official Playstation blog. It is nice to see that both of the major handhelds now have access to a direct download store, opening up more users to downloadable content of all types. Now, if only SCEA would follow Sony Japan's example and release more PS1 classics here.

Update: Version 5.0 is now available for download in North America and Japan.

QUICKIES: In Which I Make Passing Mention of Some Relatively Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
Fun Sized Stories
  • Xbox 360s are actually selling well in Japan?
    During Microsoft's Tokyo Game Show conference, they announced that sales are up in Japan "five-fold." Thanks to games like Infinite Undiscovery and Tales of Vesperia, 360s in Japan continue to fly off shelves. Sales are also up in the rest of the world. The US sales have nearly doubled and European sales are up 62%. With the combination of the recent price drops, a slew of great games coming, and the holiday buying season upon us, those numbers are sure to increase. If you're in the market for a 360, my advice to you is to buy one with a hard drive and save yourself some trouble!

  • Wii Storage solutions
    The more great, old school classics that Nintendo releases on the Virtual Console, the bigger the problem gets. What problem is that? Finding a place to put all of these games. During Nintendo's Fall Media Summit, they addressed all of our concerns. Well, not entirely. Rather than releasing a Wii hard drive add-on, like so many people have begged for, Nintendo decided to allow users to download software directly to an SD card. This will give users a few gigs of storage per card. Having to swap around SD cards is hardly an ideal solution, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. This announcement also carries with it a few implications for the future of the DSi as well. Being able to download Wii games directly to an SD card makes it all the more likely that the DSi will implement similar features down the line. NoA President Reggie Fils-Aimé even hinted as much in a recent interview. Either way, this new storage solution will be put in place with a software update sometime during Spring 2009, which gives all of you plenty of time to stock up on SD cards.

Sources: Kotaku | Joystiq

A lot of interesting things have happened since the last time you all saw the Currents Column. Tokyo Game Show has come and gone, and now everyone is getting ready to empty his or her wallets to play the myriad of great holiday releases that are nearly upon us. This is a busy time of the year with a lot of interesting stories concerning all aspects of the gaming industry. It's my job to keep some of the more interesting stories from falling through the cracks and to make sure that all of you don't miss a thing that directly affects your gaming, RPG, or otherwise. So, look forward to weekly updates on all things gaming industry related.

See you all next time.

Emanuel Merino
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